Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Kicking It Old-School….No, Really. Kicking. And Punching. And General Mayhem.

When my wife wants to relax with something on TV, her go-to is usually some kind of cooking or home improvement show on the Create Network.

Not me. For me, it’s all about action. As far as I’m concerned, settling in with Road House or The Warriors or a Jason Statham Transporter is just as soothing and comfy as being under a favorite old quilt.

I occasionally used to wonder if this made me a little bit pathological. I mean, in real life, I abhor violence. I’m bookish and reserved and don’t enjoy crowds. I don’t even much like yelling.

But finally, a couple of years ago, I realized why fictional mayhem always makes me feel comfortable and at peace with the world. It’s a childhood comfort. Seriously.

See, in my formative years, the late sixties and early seventies, on television especially, fistfighting was how problems got solved. Westerns and super-spies ruled the airwaves, and it was pretty much de rigeur that the climax of a given episode of most dramatic series was going to be a big fight.

I don’t mean like they do today on shows like Arrow and so on where it’s some sort of blend of martial arts and gymnastic moves. I mean real down-and-dirty brawling.

And when the dust settled and the good guy stood there panting after he had mowed through five or six bad guys, we could rest assured that Justice Had Been Done. “Somebody call the police to take delivery of these scumbags.” Or maybe the cops would come trotting in just as the last punch was thrown. It was absolutely the best part of Batman, the thing we all waited for.

But it was everywhere. Cops, westerns, spies, whatever– even occasionally on a medical drama like Marcus Welby— sooner or later, fisticuffs were guaranteed.

Even blind detective Longstreet got in on it (after a little coaching from Bruce Lee.)

Even on Star Trek, a show which postulated that in the 23rd century we had long ago given up on war and violence, and peace reigned over the Earth, most disputes were generally resolved with fisticuffs. Captain James Kirk rarely went on a diplomatic mission without handing out a punitive beating to the local head of government, and Starfleet internal disputes tended to be handled, shall we say, non-verbally.

So I guess you could say this particular variety of story resolution imprinted on me.

Is it dumb? Simplistic? Childish? Of course it is. But I can’t help myself. I love that shit. It’s probably one of the reasons I fell in love with pulp paperbacks as well.

Comics too– but not in the Batman comics of the time, oddly enough. Those were a little too cerebral, at least until Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams got hold of them. To find the joyous mayhem we were getting on the Batman TV show in the late sixties in the actual comic books, you had to go to Marvel.

Jack Kirby, of course.

But lots of the other Marvel guys had it going on, too. Sal Buscema was a master of the climactic punch-in-the-jaw that sent bad guys flying. Seriously. Look at what you get when you Google “Sal Buscema punch.”

Even in prose my favorites tend to be action guys. Ian Fleming screwed up an awful lot when he was talking about firearms or the way intelligence services worked, and he was a terrible snob and racist besides… but he could sell a brawl. Here’s a nasty one from the original Live And Let Die.

Tee-Hee reached over Bond’s shoulder and pressed on one of the books in the serried shelves. A large section opened on a central pivot. Bond was pushed through and the negro kicked the heavy section back into place. It closed with a double click. From the thickness of the door, Bond guessed it would be sound-proof. They were faced by a short carpeted passage ending in some stairs that led downwards. Bond groaned.

‘You’re breaking my arm,’ he said. ‘Look out. I’m going to faint.’

He stumbled again, trying to measure exactly the negro’s position behind him. He remembered Leiter’s injunction: ‘Shins, groin, stomach, throat. Hit ’em anywhere else and you’ll just break your hand.’

‘Shut yo mouf,’ said the negro, but he pulled Bond’s hand an inch or two down his back.

This was all Bond needed.

They were half way down the passage with only a few feet more to the top of the stairs. Bond faltered again, so that the negro’s body bumped into his. This gave him all the range and direction he needed.

He bent a little and his right hand, straight and flat as a board, whipped round and inwards. He felt it thud hard into the target. The negro screamed shrilly like a wounded rabbit. Bond felt his left arm come free. He whirled round, pulling out his empty gun with his right hand. The negro was bent double, his hands between his legs, uttering little panting screams. Bond whipped the gun down hard on the back of the woolly skull. It gave back a dull klonk as if he had hammered on a door, but the negro groaned and fell forward on his knees, throwing out his hands for support. Bond got behind him and, with all the force he could put behind the steel-capped shoe, he gave one mighty kick below the lavender-coloured seat of the negro’s pants.

A final short scream was driven out of the man as he sailed the few feet to the stairs. His head hit the side of the iron banisters and then, a twisting wheel of arms and legs, he disappeared over the edge, down into the well. There was a short crash as he caromed off some obstacle, then a pause, then a mingled thud and crack as he hit the ground. Then silence.

Bond wiped the sweat out of his eyes and stood listening. He thrust his wounded left hand into his coat. It was throbbing with pain and swollen to almost twice its normal size. Holding his gun in his right hand, he walked to the head of the stairs and slowly down, moving softly on the balls of his feet.

There was only one floor between him and the spread-eagled body below. When he reached the landing, he stopped again and listened. Quite close, he could hear the high-pitched whine of some form of fast wireless transmitter. He verified that it came from behind one of the two doors on the landing. This must be Mr Big’s communications centre. He longed to carry out a quick raid. But his gun was empty and he had no idea how many men he would find in the room. It could only have been the earphones on their ears that had prevented the operators from hearing the sounds of Tee-Hee’s fall. He crept on down.

Tee-Hee was either dead or dying. He lay spread-eagled on his back. His striped tie lay across his face like a squashed adder. Bond felt no remorse. He frisked the body for a gun and found one stuck in the waistband of the lavender trousers, now stained with blood. It was a Colt .38 Detective Special with a sawn barrel. All chambers were loaded. Bond slipped the useless Beretta back in its holster. He nestled the big gun into his palm and smiled grimly.

I could go on and on. But today, as it happens, we’ve been kind of having a bad morning and to cheer myself up, I thought I’d share a few of my very favorite old-school throwdowns. We all know the famous ones like Rocky vs. Clubber Lang or John Wayne in The Quiet Man, and of course there’s “Put on the glasses!”….but mine are a little more obscure.

I already mentioned The Warriors. I never, ever get tired of this movie, in particular the fight with the Baseball Furies.

Any Which Way You Can is a staggeringly dumb movie in which Clint Eastwood has to share most of his screen time with an orangutan… but it also has a bunch of amazing fight scenes with the mighty William Smith.

Really I could do a whole column just on William Smith brawls. He’s usually the bad guy, so he always loses, but damn he’s fun to watch. His most famous one is from Darker Than Amber (an otherwise disappointing Travis McGee adaptation.)

According to legend, the fight turned into the real thing and Rod Taylor and Smith genuinely bloodied each other up.

In its early days, The Six Million Dollar Man had some very cool fight scenes. Slow motion and all.

This came in for a fair amount of mockery at the time, and a lot of people thought they stole the slo-mo from Kung Fu, but Harve Bennett said it came about because they were trying to think of a work-around to show the bionic speed Steve possessed. Speeding up the film just looked slapstick, but slowing it down made it look powerful, like instant-replay on the NFL.

My favorite of those fights would have to be with John Saxon as the android in “Day of the Robot.” Saxon was actually an accomplished martial artist, as we would see in Enter The Dragon, but what I love about this is that he’s ACTING, he is fighting like a robot would.

A classic from Saturday afternoon reruns that I still love today is the throwdown between Clayton Moore’s Lone Ranger and Michael Ansara as Angry Horse.

I loved that one so much, and felt there was so much potential with Angry Horse as a villain, that I even worked out a sequel to it years later. Maybe someday I’ll get to really write it.

…wow, you know what? Still works. Just talking about these old favorites, I really do feel better.

But that’s probably enough. Feel free to share your own faves down in the comments, if you have any. We’ll let Sal Buscema take us out….

Back next week with something cool.

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  1. The Prisoner! I think maybe Patrick McGoohan had it in his contract that he had to beat up two guys simultaneously in every episode.

    And I remember as a kid watching Gil Gerard as Buck Rogers. If the plot required Buck to be captured, it could only happen after he was jumped by about ten guys, and half of them were lying unconscious on the ground.

  2. Edo Bosnar

    I know you’ve mentioned the Warriors before, and the showdown with the Baseball Furies specifically, so I’ll just repeat that I agree 100% on all counts – fantastic movie, great scene.

    Longstreet indeed has some good scenes of satisfying, old-style fisticuffs, but man, that poor guy gets his butt kicked pretty bad a few times.

    And yeah, there’s nothing as satisfying in a comic as a patented, Sal Buscema power punch – although Gil Kane comes in at a worthy second place in that category.
    One of my personal favorite examples of this is from my favorite annual ever, X-men Annual #3, which is full of awesome fights, but the best scene is when Arkon attacks the titular team around the X-mansion’s swimming pool, and Colossus takes him down by batting him with a tree trunk. Doesn’t get any better than that…

  3. Jeff Nettleton

    Anything with Robert Conrad was good: Wild Wild West or Baa-Baa

    Black Sheep. There is a doozy of a brawl in an episode where they have been training to fly Japanese planes for an infiltration mission, taking crap from some Navy officers, and get theirs back in a brawl in the wardroom. There is a great one between Conrad and Red West (who used to stunt double on TWWW).

    One of my favorites is the hand-to-hand combat demonstration Jeremy Slate gives to Claude Akins, in the mess hall, in The Devil’s Brigade. Akins is a bully and has been the leader in provoking the Canadian contingent, who are under orders not to engage in fights or face court martial and disgrace. Cliff Robertson recommends the man to CO William Holden and he arrives during chow, proceeds to insult the Americans and Akins, demands an apology and goads Akins into attacking him. He then gives a lecture on the body’s vulnerable points as he throws the larger Akins all over the roome (ending in a flip onto the mess table). Slate, himself, takes a pretty good beating from Elvis, in Girls, Girls, Girls.

    In comics it is either Kirby or Gulacy, in Master of Kung Fu. We’ve been doing our top ten brawls at Classic Comics Forum and two of mine were from MOKF: Shang-Chi vs Shen Kui, the Cat, from Gulacy and Shang-Chi vs Carlton Velcro, from Gene Day.

  4. Louis Bright-Raven

    I do agree with Edo that Colossus using the tree to clock Arkon was a cool scene. (Colossus punching him out by the pool a few pages before that wasn’t a bad “Buscema punch” moment either, but George Perez didn’t have enough space on the page to show Akron’s full body flying so it got muted.)

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